Bounty in the midst of scarcity


The day after our dog died, our kids started a puppy fund. I only reluctantly agreed to provide the jar to hold it.

Everybody had settled on getting a mini-goldendoodle puppy straight from a reputable breeder. The price tag was unrealistic, to say the least. Just 25 of the $800 puppies would equal our entire income for the year. This was akin to buying a car, another luxury item I'd wish to forgo if push came to shove.

Therefore, our income stream — more of a dribble, rather — was untouchable. Not only would the money have to come from elsewhere, we'd all have to work together and sacrifice. This household income thing I've been pining after would have to become a reality.

It all began when my daughter received $30 for five ducklings she had reared herself, and adored. She understood that the goal was worthy of the sacrifice.

Then our kids took to scouring the basement in search of toys to sell. Money arrived slowly, in the form of Andrew Jackson on horseback one $20 bill at a time.

As the jar crested a hundred bucks, an infection set in. Throughout this process, we were able to engage in a nearly impossible task together, declutter in a big way, and move closer to our $800 goal. Items large and small were hauled out of our home, most of which had been neglected for years. They were given new life in other homes, where they could add immediate value. One young couple couldn't afford a kitchen table, for example. A thoughtful mother added real value to their lives at minimal expense.

I sold collections that I had hoarded for nearly my entire life, which became burdensome. Baseball cards and old coins were all shipped out at a fraction of what I dreamed they'd be worth when I was a kid. And yet, I experienced addition through subtraction by dispensing with them. Eventually there comes a time when you must cut bait.

I learned 20 years ago that things do not add value to my life, and yet hung on to these items while hoping that their value would increase. Their worth only decreased with time. Once impressive collections had become junk in boxes taking up valuable space and energy.

The entire family is learning to prize what cannot be hoarded in storage boxes: friendship, shared experiences and spiritual growth. These things only increase in the lives of those who freely give them away.

We must have unloaded 500 pounds of goods in exchange for cash, and still we didn't have enough to purchase a 3-pound golden puppy.

We put our heads together and went to work. Our daughter, Emma, started a small business on Etsy in order to sell small crafts and artwork. She raked leaves for neighbors, and placed another Andrew Jackson into the jar.

At the dinner table, we brainstormed ways we could use our gifts and talents to further the effort. My artistic wife, Shawna, was spurred on to offer pet portraits, and quickly got a commission. Everybody was invested in the family achieving our lofty goal.

Individual efforts, such as leaf-raking or the pet portrait, became collective as we cheered each other on like we were in a relay race. The baton was merely being passed from one person to another. We all shared the strain equally.

Finally, the goal was reached. With pockets bulging with cash and coins, we drove halfway across the state to obtain our little doodle on a school night. Bleary-eyed, we battled a snowstorm late into the evening on distant highways. An uncommon warmth — kindled by love, togetherness, and shared accomplishment — carried us home that frigid evening.

It goes to show that beauty can grow out of tragedy: a job loss and the death of a family dog in this case.

One of my children has consistently asked if we are poor. Thankfully, these inquiries have ceased in recent weeks. Mere statistics would lump us into the poverty category, but we are becoming rich in another sense. We are learning and growing in ways that never would have happened if we had experienced quick success.